Saturday, June 23, 2012
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Lottery" (November 20, 1976)
This week on Ark II (1976), the post-apocalyptic exploratory vessel and its crew head into an area called “The Forbidden Zone.” The Ark II doesn’t find a half-buried Statue of Liberty there, but rather a primitive community that has “squandered its resources.” Captain Jonah’s (Terry Lester) mission is to render aid to the community and help with the resource shortage. In particular, the society has run out of water.
As Samuel (Jose Flores) soon learns, the community in the Forbidden Zone is built on the ruins of an old, pre-apocalypse laboratory that once conducted experiments in "time and space." Now, the community's authoritarian leader, Kane (Zitto Kazann) exploits that old old experiment, ordering dissidents to “face the lottery.” If they lose the lottery, they are sent off across a plain…where they disappear into another dimension…a rip in the fabric of reality.
Ruth (Jean Marie Hon) volunteers to travel inside the pocket dimension – a zone of mist and darkness – to rescue the dissidents, while Jonah and Samuel deal with the despotic Kane and his trickery.
In short, “The Lottery” is one of the most enjoyable episodes of Ark II I’ve yet watched, and that’s a direct result of the fact that the episode (by Martin Roth) contends with a strong sci-fi concept: alternate universes. For once, the matter at hand is not simply teaching some poor, cowed villagers a lesson (although that element is also here), but reckoning with a compelling sci-fi mystery.
As a Saturday morning series, Ark II boasted a low budget, and if you look closely, that low budget is very apparent here. The “alternate” dimension seems to be confined to only two people, Ruth and the dissident Steven (David Goldmund). And yet, the depiction is not entirely ineffective. It’s actually frightening in a way, and the fact that we see so little of this "other world" contributes to the narrative's sense of anxiety, especially when it looks as if Samuel and Jonah can’t rescue Ruth.
The moral of the story – and Ark II remains incredibly didactic in nature – is that when faced with shortages, some planning is necessary. Jonah delivers a lecture to the villagers that they “should have planned instead of doing nothing” when water first became scarce, while reminding Kane and his minion, Borg (Eric Boles) that they are not off the hook; that they set out to deceive and obfuscate rather than tell the truth about the lottery. In fact, they discovered a new water source and were keeping it for themselves...
In some ways, “The Lottery” is a thinly-disguised remake of an earlier episode called “The Slaves,” with the Ark II crew again seeing through the deceit of a tyrant (here Kane instead of Baron Vargas), but the addition of the overt sci-fi concept makes the episode a little more exciting, and adds a level of tension to the proceedings. Often times on the series, the Ark II crew seems free from peril. They have the technology and the vehicles and the know-how to always carry the day. So the fact that Ruth is almost trapped in a dark dimension adds a new layer of danger to the storytelling this week.
Next week: “The Drought.”